Fordham Responds to Freshman Death


Published: October 5, 2010

Jacob Miller, 18, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’14, died in his Alumni Court South dorm room on Sept. 28 as a result of an apparent suicide. He did not leave a note, nor has there been a reported history of depression.

Jacob Miller, a freshman natural science major at Fordham College at Rose Hill, was found dead in his dorm room at Alumni Court South. (Luke Cusumano/The Observer)

“His sudden loss, especially at such a young age, is heart-breaking and shocking,” the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, said in an issued statement.

Miller was remembered in an egalitarian prayer service the night of his death, attended by approximately 100 students, and arrangements were made for several students and campus ministers to travel to his funeral services in Massachusetts. There will be a memorial mass held in his honor at Our Lady’s Chapel on the lower level of the University Church at Rose Hill, which will take place on Thurs., Oct. 7 at 9 p.m.

Miller hailed from West Newbury, Mass., and spent his brief time at Fordham attending on a full academic scholarship, according to his obituary in the Newburyport News. A natural science major, Miller was part of the Science Integrated Learning Community (SILC) in his residence hall, according to Ryan Adams, FCRH ’11, a resident assistant (RA) at the Rose Hill campus.

Though there is no indication in particular that Miller was in need of support, Adams said SILC is “just a really stressful environment,” because it’s made up solely of freshman students on track to declare majors in the sciences, but “there are a lot of different support systems put in place to alleviate stress.” Such resources include upperclassman mentors in the science departments and the support of the Office of Residential Life. Residential Life representatives from Miller’s building were contacted, and though they refused to comment, there doesn’t appear to be evidence that Miller called upon these resources for help.

“I didn’t hear anything from Res Life, and usually we do,” said Adams, who said that all RAs are generally put on alert to keep an eye out for mental health concerns if one or more students appear to be struggling emotionally. “We’re very well trained to deal with counseling situations that could escalate, before and after, but it’s just very shocking to see it actually happen. It came out of nowhere,” he said. “We didn’t make it through a month without something bad happening, which is really scary.”

Though University officials refuse to confirm or deny the cause of death as a suicide, resources are being made available to students who are struggling with the news of a student’s sudden death, including prayer services advertised by Campus Ministry and pamphlets related to suicide awareness and prevention offered in the Counseling and Psychological Services office.

Keith Eldredge, dean of students at Fordham College of Lincoln Center (FCLC), said that Miller’s death was handled as a campus emergency as part of a five-tiered system for campus safety and security, led by Fordham’s Emergency Management Committee.

“There’s standard protocol [for every emergency],” Eldredge said, “but every situation has its unique qualifications.” Miller’s death was categorized as a level three emergency within the plan, which also includes violence and personal danger. Level one emergencies, the mildest, are “unusual events” such as suspicious packages, whereas level five emergencies are considered “catastrophic,” including natural disasters and terrorism.

Eldredge said representatives from a wide range of University resources come together to provide support for the University community. “There’s a coordinated effort to make sure people are communicating. There’s a central plan and folks are discussing and getting multiple perspectives… In general, the response gets tailor-made to the specific incident.”

As always, counseling services are available to all students, no matter how they have been affected by the news. “Counselors were available in the residence hall and McGinley Center that afternoon,” Eldredge said. “There will be conversations in the coming weeks about what kinds of education might help the in reactions of students to this event or in the education of how can we head off other situations.”

Jennifer Neuhof, director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), said, “CPS is offering walk-in appointments on both campuses where a student may debrief the situation or initiate short-term counseling and, in conjunction with Campus Ministry, [we are offering] a bereavement group that is open to all students.” Students who indicate that their need is urgent will be seen the same day.

Campus Ministry is also a part of the support system. Joan Cavanagh, assistant director of Campus Ministry at FCLC, said, “We feel like we’re part of the campus response for any student who would like to talk or needs support.”

“It’s very sad when anyone dies so tragically,” Cavanagh said. “I know there’s a great concern for privacy of the family, but it’s also very clear that the manner of his death, his suicide, was well publicized on so many different things… It breaks my heart to think that one of our students—or anybody—would feel tremendous pain that would lead to that kind of death.”

In light of Miller’s death, the University will consider how altering its policies could provide for a healthier student experience. Eldredge said, “There’s always an assessment after the fact to say what we can do differently going forward that may minimize the chances of something like this happening again. So that certainly will take place.”

For now, students seeking assistance are encouraged to get in touch with Counseling and Psychological Services, Campus Ministry or Residential Life. Any issues of pressing need or emergency outside of University hours should be approached through University Security.

“We’re a caring community and that’s one of the things that I like about Fordham, but I want to urge students not to take on this responsibility by themselves,” Eldredge said. “If you’re concerned about a friend, I think one of the most effective ways you can care about them and help them is by connecting with University support resources or off-campus support resources. Our goal is to help students, and that’s our priority.”